Today’s Washington Post editorial, “Mr. Hanssen’s Plea” carries with it an implicit endorsement of polygraph screening. Excerpt (emphasis added):
Fixing…vulnerabilities [in FBI security procedures] is the task ahead. No system can ensure perfect security. There will be smart and unscrupulous would-be spies at an organization the size of the bureau who find cracks to slip through. But the bureau’s resistance to the sort of security measures imposed on other agencies with sensitive missions made it too easy for Mr. Hanssen. It seems crazy that Mr. Hanssen could rise through the ranks of the bureau’s most sensitive sections without ever taking a polygraph exam. Mr. Hanssen spent lavishly on a stripper with whom he was friendly, while also carrying large amounts of debt and doing renovations on his house — all without setting off alarm bells. How could he and the few hundred other FBI officials doing this most sensitive sort of work not have been subject to more rigorous scrutiny?
The FBI is now requiring polygraph exams for roughly 500 such officials. This is a start. A number of continuing reviews will undoubtedly make other recommendations for tightening security further. The key will be actually to implement the reasonable suggestions that emerge. Such sensible proposals for reform have been floated before but always incompletely implemented. The price of such negligence is too high.
The editors of the Washington Post need to realize that expanded reliance on pseudoscientific polygraph “tests” — with their inherent bias against the truthful and susceptibility to easily-learned countermeasures — is an extremely poor start to fixing vulnerabilities in FBI security procedures. Indeed, it is counterproductive. You can help set the Washington Post editorial board straight on polygraphs by sending a letter to the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org. (Letters to the Washington Post must include your home address and home and business telephone numbers.)